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Sony, Microsoft Go Head-to-Head With Competing Virtual Worlds

Video game rivals Sony and Microsoft are going head-to-head in virtual worlds for their home consoles later this year.

Both companies announced their services, which use graphic images that represent players called "avatars," Thursday at the Tokyo Game Show.

Sony Corp.'s twice delayed online "Home" virtual world for the PlayStation 3 console will be available sometime later this year, while U.S. software maker Microsoft Corp., which competes with its Xbox 360, is starting "New Xbox Experience" worldwide Nov. 19.

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Microsoft's service will be adapted to various nations, but people will be able to communicate with other Xbox 360 users around the world, according to the Redmond, Washington-based company.

The real-time interactive computer-graphic worlds are similar to Linden Lab's "Second Life," which can be played on personal computers and has drawn millions of people.

In the so-called "metaverse" in cyberspace, players manipulate digital images called "avatars" that represent themselves, engaging in relationships, social gatherings and businesses.

Internet search leader Google Inc. has unveiled a similar three-dimensional software service called "Lively." Japanese companies have also set up such communities for personal computers.

Ryoji Akagawa, a producer at Sony Computer Entertainment Inc., Sony's gaming unit, said 24 game designing companies will provide content for "Home."

He did not give a launch date or other details. A limited test version over the summer was handy in preparing for a full-fledged service, he said.

In both Sony's and Microsoft's virtual worlds, players can personalize their avatars, choosing hairstyles, facial features and clothing. Akagawa said avatars will be able to dress up like heroes in hit video games.

"The Home has beautiful imagery with high quality three-dimensional graphics," he told reporters.

But Hirokazu Hamamura, a game expert and head of Japanese publisher Enterbrain Inc., who was at the Sony booth, said he needs to see more to assess "Home."

"You still can't tell what it's all about," he told The Associated Press, adding that "Home" may be coming a little late compared to rivals. "There are so many more possibilities for a virtual community."

Schappert said Microsoft's service promises to be more varied as a gateway to various entertainment, such as watching movies, going to virtual parties and sharing your collection of photos.

"Our goal is to make the Xbox experience more visual, easier to use, more fun to use and more social," he said in an interview at a nearby hotel. "We focused a lot on friends and other experiences outside just playing games."